signs of life in the lower 48: congressperson jackie speier and wisconsin labour: we are with you!

I've been breathlessly following the news from Wisconsin for a week, and it just keeps getting better. Canadian readers may not know that the capital of this once (and future?) liberal US state has been a battleground for labour rights and public services, ever since Governor Scott Walker declared war on public-sector workers.
First, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) announced a state budget plan that strips state workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights, cuts pay and benefits and says there will be no negotiations.

Today, he took it even further: He announced he has alerted the National Guard to be ready in case state workers strike or rise in protest. He told the Associated Press he’s been working on contingency plans for months.

The last time the National Guard was used against public workers was the Postal Workers strike in 1970. The last time the Guard was called out in Wisconsin to quell a labor dispute was the 1934 Kohler strike by the UAW.

A few days later, more than 10,000 protesters descended on the capitol building in Madison, carrying signs and chanting "recall Walker". Inside, thousands crowded into the rotunda and watched a feed of the public hearing on the governor’s proposal. Firefighters joined them in solidarity. Then nurses. And construction workers. Then teachers, as one of the states largest school districts was shut down by a teacher sick-out.

Today, the protests were estimated at 40,000 people. Democrat state legislators "fled" the state, but this wasn't their party's trademark cowardice: it was staged to deny the state's Republican-controlled Senate enough votes to pass the anti-labour bill. (It was thought that if the Democrats were still in Wisconsin, state police could force them to return to vote!)

Faith groups in Illinois offered the lawmakers sanctuary, and the most recent report is that the Republicans have quit until Tuesday.

Supposedly formerly liberal states like Wisconsin are now havens for reactionary populism. Not so fast?

* * * *

The US House of Representatives voted to de-fund Planned Parenthood today, a horrific salvo on the war against women (my extended thoughts here). Whether or not this becomes law, California Representative Jackie Speiers made millions of us proud by speaking about her own abortion during the House debate.

Rep. Jackie Speier listened to debate on the House floor on Thursday evening as a Republican Rep. Chris Smith read a long, detailed description of an abortion and a "mangled image of a dead, tiny baby." Finally, Speier stood up and told her colleagues she had undergone an abortion in the early 1990s following a complication nearly four months into her pregnancy.

"As the night wore on, the vitriol and grotesque commentary got worse and worse," Speier, a second-term Democrat from California, told HuffPost. "I sat there thinking, none of these men on the other side have even come close to experiencing this, and yet they can pontificate about what it's like. It just overwhelmed me."

Speier underwent an abortion in her early 40s, while she was serving in the California State Assembly. The procedure used to terminate the pregnancy was the same type that Smith's book described. As she listened, Speier said she became more emotional and made the decision to speak out.

"This was a wanted pregnancy, it was the second miscarriage I had had," she told HuffPost. "What they express doesn't come close to the experience that a woman goes through when she is losing a baby or when a pregnancy is terminated. It's a painful, gut-wrenching loss."

She said she had spoken publicly about her experience with abortion only once before, while debating late-term abortion in the California state legislature.

After she told her story, Speier said many colleagues -- both male and female -- offered their support, some saying she put tears in their eyes. One Republican told her the amendment was inappropriate, she said, while Smith, whose remarks caused her to speak up, said nothing.

As a longtime supporter of abortion rights, Speier said she was frustrated to see a debate over funding descend into a moral debate over a woman's right to choose. The amendment under debate, proposed by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), was to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funds -- even though they are already barred from being used for abortion.

Speier crossed a seemingly uncrossable boundary. Speaking publicly about one's own abortion is the last taboo, tackled by feminists in various projects, but almost never heard in the mainstream. Speier will receive hate mail, for sure, but she'll also receive an outpouring of support, along with the silent gratitude of millions of women who are thinking, "Yes! It's about time!"


Amy said...

I saw Rep. Speier's speech on the evening news on TV tonight and was stunned and incredibly moved by her bravery and her eloquence. To stand up to the reactionary jerks in Congress and to reveal such a personal story in defending Planned Parenthood must have taken so much courage. Although I am heartened by her example, I am utterly dismayed by the fact that despite her speech, the cutoff of funding passed.

As for Wisconsin, yes, the protesters and the Democrats who are blocking a quorum by disappearing are admirable, but again, I can't help but be dismayed by the reasons they have had to take those actions. Denial of collective bargaining rights...in Wisconsin? Just awful.

laura k said...

I don't expect good results in the US. I cheer for the fightback no matter what.

allan said...

The first wave of protestors at Walker's office stayed well into the night -- until 3 AM!

I think I read that Wisconsin does have a recall option, once the person has been in office for a year.

allan said...

The Assembly teetered on the brink of chaos late Friday but then adjourned peacefully after Republicans canceled a vote on Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill that the GOP lawmakers took without Democrats present. ...

In the Assembly, Republican leaders had called lawmakers to the floor at 5 p.m. to take up Walker's bill to repeal union bargaining rights for public workers. But they quickly began business just before that hour, when Democrats were not yet on the floor.

Democrats charged into the chamber and shouted to stop the action as Republican staff urged leaders to "keep going, keep going." Republicans took the voice vote, putting the bill in a stage that prevented it from being amended in that house. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) called the move an "illegal vote" and demanded that Republicans rescind it. ...

Minutes later, Republicans agreed to effectively cancel the vote by allowing the bill to return to a stage in which Democrats can offer amendments. Democrats may have dozens of them, and the debate on the bill - whenever it happens - is expected to take hours. The Assembly adjourned until 10 a.m. Tuesday.


allan said...

Also this evening:

The Madison School District has gone to court to get teachers back to work, but a judge refused to immediately order teachers back to class. ...

Schools have been closed in Madison, Milwaukee and other districts around Wisconsin as teachers call in sick to attend protests at the state Capitol over Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill.

laura k said...

Worker uprisings already spreading to other states: link.

Paul Davis said...

I'm a Canadian living through the Wisconsin labour attack and I find myself unexpectedly ambivalent about the protests and the ultimate outcome of Walker's budget repair bill. Ambivalent is too strong a word actually, but I'm not sure how else to describe this odd feeling. I read and enjoy wmtc on a regular basis but have never commented. I'm leaving one now because I'm wondering if others have had similar reactions when faced with similar situations.

I'm a state employee, part of a group that not only stands to lose bargaining rights and take-home pay (which is already 4-5% less than the national average) but that is also being labeled lazy, greedy and to blame for the state's fiscal problems. I'm also someone who has thought of Madison and Wisconsin as my home, and I'm angry about Walker's first steps toward making my home a place that I don't live in anymore. It's clear, to me, that this bill is unjust. I was relieved to hear that the Dems left town.

As I said though, the above is only one side of my feelings. It was plain, in the months leading up to the November vote, that Walker was bad news. It was because I was worried about his platform and the strength of his support that I voted for Barrett, even though I considered him something of a "lesser evil" (I typically abstain when I don't find a candidate that represents me). But Walker won anyway. And now a part of me is thinking that if Walker is what the people of Wisconsin wanted, maybe he is what they deserve. Well, that was the initial, more spiteful reaction. In an informal poll, with a small and unrepresentative sample, the people I know who are most outraged about his didn't bother to vote. Does this mean they should lose their voice? I don't think so. But if the reason they didn't show up to the polls was apathy and satisfaction with the status quo, maybe 4 years Scott Walker won't be all bad. Maybe people will realize that the rights we took for granted were hard won. So for that reason, I'm also feeling more than a little apathetic about what ultimately happens. I haven't walked up to the square to protest, and I don't plan to.

laura k said...

Hi Paul, thanks for your comment and for coming out of lurkdom.

I think what you're describing is cynicism - specifically the cynicism that creeps in after extreme frustration. I can understand feeling that way.

I've never gone with the "get what they deserve" response, although I've certainly heard it often enough regarding Bush, war, etc. It doesn't work for me because:

- first-past-the-post systems mean huge numbers of people don't get what they voted for - if 51% of voters elect someone, does the 49% get what they deserve?

- candidates lie - campaign for the people, but govern for corporations (who stands to profit if services are privatized? which is the ultimate goal of union-busting - NOT constraining the budget) - so often what they get is not what they voted for at all

- many people don't vote because they are not represented by any candidate

- why should teachers, firefighters, nurses, etc. and their families suffer so that ignorant voters can potentially learn a lesson?

- and finally, even ignorant voters who are easily manipulated may not "deserve" what's coming.

But if the reason they didn't show up to the polls was apathy and satisfaction with the status quo, maybe 4 years Scott Walker won't be all bad. Maybe people will realize that the rights we took for granted were hard won.

In my experience, punishing austerity budgets don't teach lessons. They cause suffering. And they become the new normal. The money is never restored. Bargaining rights will not be magically restored. The quality of life will decline, people will become more alienated, more disenfranchised - which will lead to the corporatist government having more unopposed power to do whatever it wants.

Saving your fightback for later is not a winning strategy - it's a rationalization for cynicism and apathy. If you care about those hard-won rights, you'll get down to the capitol building and join the fight.